Judah was a high-needs baby. This meant that he constantly wanted feeding and carrying, became overstimulated and yet demanded attention. Were it not for breastfeeding and using a sling, I'm sure those early days would have been extremely hard. As it was, I was fully convinced of the theory of attachment parenting, encouraged to be responsive and use my instincts to care for my small baby.
When babies become toddlers, life gets trickier. A newborn's needs are simple - a caregiver's arms, food, warmth. Toddlers frequently confuse their wants with their needs and have ways of making their displeasure known, physically and vocally. Suddenly it seems that nurturing your child requires completely different skills that you are required to learn as you go along. When you're in public and they're acting up. Under the disapproving gaze of others. When they're having a meltdown in the supermarket.
Judah was an overall happy, if active, baby. He had a way of arresting people with his gaze up in the sling and demanding their attention. He constantly bounced on his legs. He began to speak early, I'm convinced so he could get people to do what he wanted. Demands coming from a tiny person have a way of being endearing. He loved people a lot.
I feel guilty when I consider Judah's babyhood. For the first year of his life we had two housemates who he bonded with very well. Then they left to go back to Australia. That was the first loss. The second one was when I split with his father. It isn't really any wonder that during this the bond between he and I has been the only constant in his life. He has become such a confident, self-assured little soul for which I am very grateful.
Judah is a livewire, a spark. He's intelligent and fiercely independent. He's got an incredible memory and gift for storytelling. He loves deeply. He can talk in complex sentences, tell jokes and has the most brilliant laugh in the world. He shows initiative and courage. He loves cuddles and kisses. He loves to find mischief and revels in the forbidden. He wants to know how things work. He is easily overstimulated yet seeks adventure. He doesn't really play with toys, he wants to explore the real world. He has a gleam in his eye. He is always testing me.
Lately I have been finding his behaviour trying. I've been overwhelmed with everything in my life and sometimes I wish he was the kind of child who would enjoy simple pleasures, listen straight away, be distracted. When I'm tired I would give anything for him to stop the first time he was asked, walk in the right direction, not be the only child to find the exit and escape. He pushes boundaries to the extent that if I ask him not to leave the room, he will sit as close as he can to the doorway just to see what my reaction will be. He's convinced he is always right.
How often do we see a strong-willed child as a gift? Our society praises 'good' children and immediate compliance. Usually my frustration with him is only a result of what I know others are thinking. That could even be "she breastfed him too long, she carried him in the sling too much, she's too indulgent." They don't see my constant assessing of the safety of any given situation, marking out all the exits and boundaries with my eyes, on high alert that his direction could change in an instant. They don't see the calm negotiation that may take 3, 4, 5 times to get the desired result. They don't know that if you push with him he pushes back twice as hard.
I find people think gentle parenting is permissive parenting and it's not. The idea is to guide and teach instead of reward and punish, so children develop an inner morality, intrinsic motivation. I have boundaries and rules for Judah but I don't want him to follow them because he is afraid or because I've dangled a carrot in front of him.
He doesn't passively enjoy anything, he immerses himself in the experiences of life and won't hesitate to give his opinion. He needs to make his voice heard. He has to maintain control and autonomy. He interacts beautifully with strangers and draws them into the magic that surrounds him. He is wonderfully affectionate and loving.
You have to put in a lot of work with Judah, but the rewards are more than worth it.
I believe we are given the children suited to us. My legendary patience has been tested but I believe I'm the right mother for him. Even when he's running me ragged, I wouldn't change him. He is who he is. I could gain compliance and break his spirit but I would lose those incredible moments where the world is revealed through his eyes and it is an absolutely amazing thing to behold. He's my little wild one. He has a way of truly involving you in his world and it is magical.
The qualities in him, his absolute demand of your full attention, expectation of his needs being met, his energy, his confidence, creativity, scientific mind, emotional intensity, desire for discovery, all these things I would be delighted for him to have as an adult. I never want him to lose his self-esteem or sense of adventure.
I have not been the best parent lately. I have found us at odds and the bond I treasured so much has been feeling thinner. I have felt like I have been trying to force him to change, causing friction between us and apologising for him all at the same time. I don't want to apologise for him anymore.
I'm renewing my commitment to gentle parenting, that gentle guidance that respects children, meets their individual needs and encourages them to grow up to be caring, compassionate individuals. I will try harder to not care what people see on the surface of things, the out of control, demanding toddler. It is my job to keep him safe and give him the freedom to be himself. He is wonderful. I am so excited to see what he does with his gifts and who he becomes and I am very lucky to be his mother.